What's that? Over there! Down by the edge of the creek, you just saw something dart around the edge of a tree. Was it a frog? Or a chameleon? Some type of lizard? Maybe it was a newt!

Newts are semi-aquatic amphibians that look a bit like a combination of a frog and a lizard. Like frogs, they have smooth, moist skin. As adults, they have long tails like lizards.

Sometimes people refer to newts as salamanders, and that's true. Newts are members of the scientific order Salamandridae. However, not all salamanders are newts. Newts are part of the subfamily known as Pleurodelinae.

Found throughout the waterways of North America, Europe, and Asia, newts develop in three distinct stages. They begin life as aquatic larvae. As they grow, they stay mainly on land and are called efts. When they reach adulthood, they have fully-developed lizard-like bodies.

Some varieties of adult newts spend all their time in the water. Other types are semi-aquatic, living most of the time on land and only returning to the water annually to breed.

Newts can boast some special features that make them unique creatures. For example, newts can regenerate missing body parts, including their arms and legs, eyes, intestines, jaws, heart, and spinal cord!

Many varieties of newts can also secrete toxins through their skin. This defense mechanism helps to protect them from predators, such as fish, foxes, snakes, and birds.

The rough-skinned newt that lives in the Pacific Northwest can produce enough tetrodotoxin to kill an adult human. Fortunately, a newt's toxins are only lethal when swallowed or absorbed through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin.

In addition to preying on insects, newts offer another important benefit: they can help scientists study the health of the environment. Because of their sensitive skin, newts are good bioindicators.

The presence or absence of newts in a particular area can give scientists a good idea of the overall health of a particular body of water. Since they absorb oxygen and other needed nutrients through their skin, diminished water quality can force newts to seek new habitats.

Wonder What's Next?

Join us in Wonderopolis tomorrow for a look back at a dark time in world history!